Seeking support with Dr Tulika Saxena and Dr Merrindahl Andrew

26 November 2020

Dr Tulika Saxena and Dr Merrindahl Andrew are among the first in our series profiling experts in violence prevention to help raise awareness towards the elimination of violence against women.

This year, YWCA Canberra is participating in 16 Days of Activism by sharing stories, resources and interviews from people and organisations doing their bit to fight against gender-based violence.

Violence in any area of work and life can be a complex issue to navigate. It can be especially hard for women who experience violence in the home at the hands of a domestic or intimate partner. Dr Tulika Saxena, and Dr Merrindahl Andrew, are just two of the many people around the world who help women everyday escape abuse they may experience in the home.

With more than 40-years combined experience in violence prevention and advocacy, Dr Saxena and Dr Andrew are experts in violence prevention and management. Through their work specialising in primary prevention training, workplace equality and respect programs, as well as Domestic and Family Violence casework, they have helped countless women across the Canberra region and beyond, live a more productive, safe and prosperous life.

We caught up with them to learn more about the role that gender inequality plays in violence against women and hear about their work more generally.

What role does gender inequality play in the case of violence against women?  

TS: Violence is a manifestation of unequal power and control. When one section of society has more power over others, violence can be used to maintain that power and control.  In our society, the differences in gender expectations are a driven by gender inequality. Gender roles enforced by society create unequal power dynamics, and therefore create an unequal distribution of power and resources between men and women.  Although these gender roles may seem harmless at first, these subtle differences slowly add up to result in inequality, discrimination, and violence against women.

MA: People who use violence need to be held accountable by their communities for their choices to harm and control others. In terms of what makes violence against women so widespread and severe, gender inequality creates the conditions for this violence, together with intersecting forms of oppression and discrimination including racism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism. Creating more equal gender relations and more respectful, inclusive communities helps to prevent violence. At the same time, we need to provide proper support to people who have been subjected to violence and hold people accountable when they use violence.

Domestic and family violence in Australia – click to see more.

2020 has been a difficult year for us all, but particularly for women and children who experience violence in the home. Can you share with us the challenges women have faced during COVID-19 and how lockdown has exacerbated the problem?

TS: COVID-19 has highlighted existing gender inequalities, such as the gender pay gap, the unequal burden of caring work on women, and immediate and long-term effects on women’s economic and financial security. More women than men lost their jobs and more time at home exposes them to a higher risk of domestic and family violence. Due to lockdown, it also became challenging to access services and help.

MA: Another big impact has been on people’s financial situations, making it even harder to gain independence from an abusive partner, family member or carer. It has been positive to see communities and governments acknowledge these challenges and provide additional funding – but there is a long way to go before every person is supported properly.

What is something many people don’t know about domestic and family violence that is important to share?

MA: Many people do not know that the forms of violence that are not as visible, such as psychological and emotional abuse, often cause the worst harm and are the hardest to recover from. While news reports often focus on extreme crimes of homicide and physical injury, the loss of happiness, well-being, potential achievements, and connections with others are some consequences that we should also be thinking about. On the flip side, these are gained every time someone is supported to build a life free of violence.

TS: Some misconceptions about domestic and family violence (DFV), is that DFV is often associated with other cultures other than our own. This simply isn’t true, and the fact of the matter is, is that domestic and family violence is pervasive and exists within all cultures around the world.

In situations where domestic violence does occur, it is often assumed that the causes of it include financial stress, alcohol and substance abuse, anger management issues and mental health issues. The reality is that although these factors reinforce DFV, they are not the underlying causes.

Can you tell us a bit about the Domestic Violence Support Service?

TS: The domestic violence support service is a free, confidential, non-judgemental support to women and children impacted by domestic and family violence in the ACT. Our domestic and family violence specialists through outreach support provide information and advice, DV education, assess risk and plan for safety and other wrap-around support and referrals to ensure safety and wellbeing.

What are some specialist homelessness services in Canberra people can turn too if they need additional help.

TS: The access to specialist homelessness services is provided in Canberra through OneLink. OneLink provides information and connections for support services in the ACT, including services for families and young people, and services for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. OneLink will provide you with adequate referral to the appropriate services.

Do you have anything else to add?

TS: To address violence against women, we need to invest and work at the primary prevention level. Primary prevention means the whole of the population approach where we work on achieving a gender-equal society. This means we all have a role to play as violence against women is serious, prevalent and preventable.

Want to see more of 16 Days of Activism? Be sure to check out our other blog posts here or watch our digital interviews.

Follow the hashtag #16Days to see what other organisations are doing around the world to help fight against gender-based violence!

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